Olympic Year in Review: Headlines

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OlympicTalk takes a look back at the year in Olympic sports this week. Today, we review enduring news stories.

US Speedskating’s Sochi Problems

U.S. speed skaters starred in the World Cup season before the Olympics. That, combined with US Speedskating’s history of Olympic medals (more than 20 more than any other U.S. winter sport), portended success in Sochi.

But the U.S. won zero long-track speed skating medals for the first time since 1984. They weren’t even close. The best individual finish was seventh place.

What went wrong? Early reports emphasized an Under Armour racing suit billed as the fastest in the world, different from the suits that U.S. skaters wore during the World Cup season. Skaters eventually reverted to the old suits during the Olympics, but results didn’t get any better.

US Speedskating cited several factors and finalized an internal report in May, also including a decision to hold a pre-Olympic training camp outdoors and up in the mountains in Collalbo, Italy. The Olympic speed skating events were indoors and near sea level.

This season, two-time Olympic champion Shani Davis started out slow but made his first podium in his last World Cup race of 2014. Heather Richardson has been arguably the most impressive male or female skater so far, while Brittany Bowe has also made the podium multiple times.

Olympic Year in Review: Winter Sports | Summer Sports | Photos | Social Media

Yuna Kim Judging Controversy

Russian figure skater Adelina Sotnikova‘s victory over defending champion Yuna Kim in Sochi became the controversy of the Winter Games, in competition at least.

One of the judges is married to a top Russian figure skating federation official and was seen hugging Sotnikova shortly after she won gold. Another judge was suspended one year as being part of the 1998 Olympic ice dance fixing scandal.

Kim retired after the Olympics, but South Korea’s Skating Union announced one month later that it would file an official protest to the International Skating Union. In June, the International Skating Union rejected the complaints.

It certainly looks like we’ll see Kim at the 2018 Olympics, since she is an ambassador for the first Winter Games in South Korea. Sotnikova, meanwhile, hasn’t competed in top-level international competition since Sochi, suffering a torn ankle ligament this fall.

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Oscar Pistorius Trial

A trial that gripped South Africa and made headlines worldwide began a little over one week after the Sochi Olympics ended.

Oscar Pistorius, the first double amputee to run in the Olympics in 2012, faced up to life in prison for shooting and killing girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day 2013.

Pistorius’ trial began March 3, was initially slated for three weeks and ran to Oct. 21 with several breaks. On the 49th day in court, Pistorius was sentenced to no more than five years in prison for culpable homicide (but not premeditated murder) with a possibility of it being less than a year and the rest served under house arrest.

On Dec. 10, judge Thokozile Masipa ruled South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeal will review the murder trial. Pistorius, 28, is barred from the Rio 2016 Paralympics under his current sentence but could be allowed to return to track and field.

Michael Phelps’ Comeback

The most decorated Olympian of all time came out of a 20-month competitive retirement in April, won his first final in May and was the best U.S. men’s swimmer again by August.

Phelps won USA Swimming’s Male Athlete of the Year and finished the season as the only U.S. man with the fastest time in the world in an Olympic event (100m butterfly).

Then, Phelps was pulled over and arrested on DUI charges in September, suspended six months by USA Swimming in October and received probation after pleading guilty in a Baltimore court in December.

The 29-year-old is training again, after spending 45 days in an Arizona treatment program, and focused on unspecified goals for 2015. He is barred from the 2015 World Championships, the biggest meet between now and his potential fifth Olympics in 2016.

Michael Phelps’ potential record chases at Rio Olympics

2024 Olympics

In 2013, the 2020 Olympics were awarded to Tokyo. The focus quickly turned to the next Summer Games, and which city they would be awarded to in 2017.

The U.S. Olympic Committee ramped up its bidding process in 2014, choosing four finalist cities in June (from an initial group of more than 30 to which it sent letters in February 2013). In December, the USOC announced it would bid for the 2024 Olympics, its first bid since Chicago’s failed bid for the 2016 Games.

The U.S. is expected to choose one city from Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., in January to be its 2024 bid. The U.S. is in the midst of its longest stretch between hosting Olympics (since 2002) since a 28-year gap from 1932 to 1960.

The U.S. will also get to size up its competition in 2015, with bids confirmed for Rome and either Berlin or Hamburg. Paris and South Africa may also join the fray.

2024 Olympics coverage

Lindsey Vonn’s Comeback

The 2010 Olympic downhill champion Lindsey Vonn announced on Jan. 7 that she would undergo a second knee surgery in less than a year’s time and miss the Sochi Olympics. But she would return to ski racing, and the Olympics in 2018.

Racing another four years? Skepticism was merited. Vonn will be 33 come Pyeongchang 2018, older than any previous Winter Olympic women’s Alpine medalist.

But Vonn silenced doubters with victories in two of her first four races back in December. She goes into the new year one win shy of the women’s all-time World Cup record and a medal favorite at the World Championships in Vail/Beaver Creek in February.

Video: Vonn falls in final race of 2014

Tahiti chosen for Olympic surfing competition at 2024 Paris Games

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Paris 2024 Olympic organizers want the surfing competition to be held in Tahiti, an island in French Polynesia that is about 9,800 miles from Paris.

It would break the record for the farthest Olympic medal competition to be held outside the host. In 1956, equestrian events were moved out of Melbourne due to quarantine laws and held five months earlier in Stockholm, some 9,700 miles away.

The Paris 2024 executive board approved the site Thursday — specifically, the village of Teahupo’o — and will propose it to the IOC. It beat out other applicants Biarritz, Lacanau, Les Landes and La Torche, all part of mainland France.

Surfing will debut at the 2020 Tokyo Games but is not on the permanent Olympic program. Surfing was among sports added to the Paris 2024 program in June and could be added for the 2028 Los Angeles Games.

MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics

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Adam Jones, five-time MLB All-Star, becomes Olympic eligible

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Should the U.S. qualify for baseball’s Olympic return, a five-time MLB All-Star could be eligible for its roster in Tokyo. And he has interest.

Outfielder Adam Jones signed with the Orix Buffaloes of Japan’s domestic league, which, unlike MLB, will take an Olympic break next summer to allow players to take part in the first Olympic baseball tournament in 12 years.

Jones, 34, made no mention of Olympic eligibility in a social media post announcing the signing. His Instagram avatar is a photo of him in a Team USA jersey from the World Baseball Classic.

Jones’ agent later said that Jones does have interest in playing for the U.S. in Tokyo, should an American team qualify in the spring.

“To play over in Japan has always been a desire of Adam’s, and the timing worked out that the Olympics happens to be played in Tokyo the first year of his contract,” Jones’ agent wrote in an email. “It wasn’t one of the factors on his decision BUT more of a [sic] addition to the overall package to decide to go.”

Jones called being part of the U.S.’ 2017 WBC title, “probably the best experience of my life so far, especially with sports,” according to The Associated Press. He was one of five players to be on the U.S. team at each of the last two World Baseball Classics.

The U.S. still faces a difficult task to qualify for the Tokyo Games. It lost to Mexico last month in its first of up to three chances at qualifying tournaments, using a roster of mostly double-A and triple-A caliber players.

Major Leaguers are not expected to be made available for qualifying or for the Tokyo Games.

The next two qualifying tournaments will be in late March (an Americas qualifier in Arizona) and early April (a final, global qualifying event in Chinese Taipei). It remains to be seen how MLB clubs will go about releasing minor leaguers for a tournament that will take place during spring training.

Jones could become the third player with prior MLB All-Star experience to compete at the Olympics from any nation, joining Australian catcher Dave Nilsson and Canadian pitcher Jason Dickson.

Jones made five All-Star teams during an 11-year stint with the Baltimore Orioles from 2008-18 before playing for the Arizona Diamondbacks last season.

Many players competed at the Olympics before making an MLB All-Star team, including Stephen Strasburg and Jason Giambi.

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